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Al's Burger Shack changes hands, UNC graduates serve as new owners

Charlie Farris, the new owner of Al's Burger Shack, poses with his family outside of the restaurant on Sunday, Jan. 8 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Charlie Farris and Jason Kesler, franchise owners of Jersey Mike’s Subs and 2004 UNC graduates, purchased Chapel Hill’s Al’s Burger Shack in December from Al Bowers, the founder and former owner of the popular joint. 

Al’s Burger Shack has two locations in Chapel Hill, both of which serve locally raised beef, free of antibiotics and hormones. In 2018, Tripadvisor named it the best burger restaurant in America based on millions of customer reviews across the country. 

Although the restaurant remains popular among the Chapel Hill community, it has been the subject of scrutiny. The acquisition follows 2020 allegations of sexual harassment against Bowers, according to Chapelboro.

Farris said they have no plans to change the name or ingredients, and they want customers to keep coming for the burgers they have grown to love since Al’s first opened in 2013.

“We want people to know that they can still come and get that same great cheeseburger and fries on every visit,” Farris said. “We’re not trying to reinvent it. We bought it because we liked what it was.”

Al’s already has great products and service, Farris said. He and Kesler want to use their knowledge to implement operational systems they learned from owning Jersey Mike's and ensure products are consistent across stores.

Farris also said he gives back to the Chapel Hill community through nonprofits in the area and will continue to do so at Al’s.

Lily Reckford, a senior at UNC, said she eats a burger from Al’s about once a week and tends to order the same thing each time she goes.

“I think my biggest fear would just be that they would change either the menu or the ingredients,” Reckford said. “As long as the food stays the same, I don’t really care that the ownership changes.”

As a customer of Al’s before the purchase, Farris said he understands patrons want to be able to order their favorite meal without worrying that it’s been modified. 

The new owners are working with the current staff at both Al’s locations to learn about the daily operations. Farris said he plans to use training charts to perfect the consistency of their food.

“We’re trying to learn the business from the staff,” he said. “The staff has been absolutely fantastic and instrumental in the transition. We’ve been learning a lot more from them than they have been from us so far.”

Mary Margaret Bromhal, a junior at UNC, said Al’s is one of the only burger places that she enjoys in Chapel Hill and often dines there when her family visits. 

“I like how homey it is, so I hope that doesn’t change,” Bromhal said. “They partnered with Puff (Johnson), so that would be good if they keep engaging with the Chapel Hill area like that.”

Additionally, since Al’s is important to the Chapel Hill community, customers have mixed opinions about the possibility of franchising the business. Bromhal said she would be worried about a decrease in quality if they expand.

Farris emphasized that he understands the importance of the restaurant staying local as his family is involved in the Chapel Hill and south Durham areas. He also said he knows customers value the locality of restaurants.

“It’s a bunch of Tar Heels and folks that have been in the area for a couple of decades now are continuing to operate the place,” he said.

@DTHCityState | 

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